Excerpted from the book, Teaching Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting: A Childbirth Educator’s Perspective written by Marcy White (available for purchase from the ICEA Bookcenter). Childbirth educators can teach relaxation knowing that it has a well- established research base with many uses, not only for childbearing, but for general health care as well. There is considerable research to document the benefits of relaxation in reducing hypertension, insomnia, anxiety, stress, and pain. It is also worth noting that the benefits of relaxation continue after birth. New parents can use relaxation techniques to help reduce the stress, anxiety, and fatigue that accompany the transition to parenthood. Relaxation is a life skill, and in a good childbirth preparation program the participants will emerge with relaxation skills on which they can build for a lifetime.
In teaching relaxation the childbirth educator might also want to consider the following:
1. Describe what relaxation is. Relaxation is not an out-of-body experience. It is simply a state of mind in which there is reduced tension and arousal. Sensations associated with relaxation are a slowing of the heart rate, ease of breathing, decreased tension, and a sense of security and tranquility. These sensations are similar to other familiar experiences – like staring into the flame of a warm fire on a cold winter night, becoming engrossed while reading a really good book, lying on the beach in the warm sun, or watching the movement of clouds as they drift across a beautiful blue sky. The state is often identified as being similar to dreaming while being awake and aware, or daydreaming with a purpose. This description of relaxation may be beneficial for some class members who are reluctant to participate for lack of understanding of what relaxation is.
2. Start with simple techniques. By starting with simple skills, and sequentially moving on to more complex, the expectant family will be better able to master basic relaxation skills. Some instructors begin with a progressive relaxation in which the class members progressively and consciously tighten and relax muscle groups. Progressive relaxation helps the participant become aware of the sensation of tension. In order to relax one must first become aware of what tension feels like in his or her own body. As tension is identified the individual can then focus on releasing the tension in order to facilitate a sensation of relaxation.
3. Focus on the sensation of relaxation. Helping individuals become aware of the sensation of relaxation is an important consideration when teaching relaxation. Individuals must be able to identify with what relaxation feels like – in other words, they must become aware of what their breathing feels like as they relax and they must be able to distinguish between tension and relaxation within their body and mind.
4. Use sensory images. Imagery works well as an introductory relaxation technique, and it also can be an effective tool for labor and birth. It is important to understand, however, that imagery is not something that is strictly visual. Imagery is a perception that can come from any of the senses. That means sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings. Some individuals are unable to connect with imagery that is strictly visual. Although some people are visual and able to see pictures in their mind’s eye (visualization), others are more connected to the sensations and feelings they experience. Sensory images, whether visual or other, are the true language of the body. Our bodies don’t discriminate between sensory images and reality.
5. Use music. Music is increasingly being used in childbirth classes and during childbirth to enhance relaxation and decrease anxiety. Music, rhythm, and imagery are classified as right brain activities, which activate the parasympathetic response and the resultant sense of security, balance, and tranquility. Music is able to access the autonomic nervous system through the thalamus, thereby evoking an emotional response.
6. Allocate adequate class time. All too often not enough time is allocated to teaching relaxation. There are many reasons why this happens. You may find it difficult to teach everything you feel is important to teach in a class series. You may feel pressed for time. Or, perhaps you are not comfortable teaching this topic and not sure how to fill a forty or forty-five minute block of time on just breathing, relaxation, and comfort measures. By allocating adequate class time to teaching relaxation the childbirth educator sends a clear message about the importance of relaxation. An ongoing focus on relaxation throughout a class series allows participants to learn simple techniques so that they can build upon these techniques as the series progresses.
7. Encourage practice outside of the classroom. Since relaxation is a skill that requires ongoing practice it is important for expectant mothers, and their partners, to practice relaxation outside of the classroom setting. Encourage class members to use relaxation when they encounter stressful times in their daily lives. As they come to value the importance that relaxation can have in managing stress, and as they come to understand the benefit of using relaxation to reduce anxiety and pain during labor, they will be more motivated to practice relaxation on their own. There are many relaxation CDs available that include narration and voice-overs meant to facilitate relaxation. In addition, relaxation sessions are an important part of most prenatal exercise and yoga classes. Expectant mothers who participate in these classes will have additional time to practice and master the art of relaxation. The more proficient the woman becomes, the more confident she will be in using relaxation during labor so that she can work in harmony with her body as she labors to bring her child into the world.
Copyright INTERNATIONAL CHILDBIRTH EDUCATION ASSOCIATION Sep 2007
(c) 2007 International Journal of Childbirth Education. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.